Recently, an advertisement for the brain-training program Elevate appeared on my Twitter feed. The advertisement included a tear sheet with the phrase “Remove unneeded words that you don’t need in sentences” written on it.
The phrases “less is more” or, to further observe the axiom, “be concise” were crossed out in four places, providing a clear visual message regarding an even more potent spoken message.
The most authoritative of all the experts, Strunk and White, in their classic, “The Elements of Style,” stated succinctly: “Do not overwrite.” This online counsel is yet another cry for simplicity that has been in print ad infinitum by many authorities. “Don’t exaggerate.”
That counsel is more crucial than ever in today’s world of information overload and material bloat. Here are two more experts on the matter before I give you some advice on how to use concision.
Art and Commerce: Steve Jobs and Pablo Picasso
Trung Phan, the co-host of the Not Investment Advice on Bloomberg, wrote about them in a series of postings. Both of the instances he gave were unrelated to writing yet had a lot to do with it. The first comes from art, the second from technology.
The first example is Pablo Picasso, who produced 11 lithographs titled “The Bull,” a series in which, as Trung Phan notes, “a bull is simplified and abstracted with each consecutive print.” Picasso drew a representational sketch of a bull in the first, complete with horns, tails, and shades of black and white skin.
In the eleventh, however, the bull is almost entirely a single line outline, with only a “u” indicating the horns, a short line indicating the tail, and a scattering of black and white dots indicating the skin, the height of simplicity.
The second instance Trung Phan gave was at Apple University, where “The Bull” was made into a model lecture for new employees learning about the company’s renowned minimalistic design that gave its products, packaging, and advertising a sleek, upscale appearance in 2008.
That way of thinking originated with Steve Jobs, who consistently placed a laser-like focus on simplicity. Jobs’ advice is cited by Trung Phan as follows: “You must thoroughly comprehend the essence of a product in order to be able to get rid of the pieces that are not important.” As you’ll see in this video, Jobs continued to put his words into practice by refusing.
Here is how you may use the general ideas above in many facets of business:
Presentation anecdotes: Presentations are frequently given a set amount of time during conferences and conventions, however, this time limit is frequently arbitrary. No audience wants more, thus it’s best to confine all stories to a 30-minute maximum; it’s uncommon that a story deserves longer.
Make the headings on your presentation slides, not handouts.
Keep your responses to questions to 60 seconds. Not obfuscation, but clarification is what audiences want to hear. More queries may be raised the shorter the dialogue. Keep everything going.
Message: Instead of the Salesforce Tower, take a six-story skyscraper for your elevator pitch.
Meetings: Establish an agenda and a set end time, then stick to them.
Keep your emails to one subject each email because most people simply read the first line.
Keep your advertising and slogans succinct and to the point. Consider Apple’s “Think Different” slogan. “What’s in your wallet?” by Capital One comes to mind.
Focus: the product strategy. Don’t try to sell all you have to every consumer.
Say “no” to excess and abide by Steve Jobs’ instructions.